In an effort to "try to prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke," the Associated Press (AP) reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon issue voluntary guidelines to encourage food companies and restaurants to lower sodium in their offerings.
Although current Dietary Guidelines for Americans set a daily cap of less than 2,300 milligrams for Americans over age two (and even less—1,500 milligrams—for adults aged 51 and over, African-Americans and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease), most children exceed these recommendations. National survey data reveals that while two to five year-olds meet the cap and average 2,307 milligrams of sodium daily (that's about one teaspoon of salt), older children fare worse. Six- to 11-year-olds consume about 2969 milligrams of sodium daily, and 12- to 19-year-olds average a whopping 3,585 milligrams of sodium daily.
Typically, consuming more dietary sodium is linked with higher blood pressure. And for children, there's moderate evidence that as sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure. Helping children keep blood pressure in a normal range may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Despite evidence to the contrary, not everyone agrees sodium intake should be limited to garner blood pressure or other health benefits. In fact, a recent review published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that while both low sodium intakes and high sodium intakes were associated with increased mortality, average daily intakes of between 2,645–4,945 milligrams was associated with the most favorable health outcomes. According to the AP article, the food industry supports a 2013 Institute of Medicine report that suggests there's no good evidence that eating sodium at levels below 2,300 milligrams daily offers benefits.
Whatever your thoughts about sodium, it's important to know where it lurks so that you can be mindful when feeding even young children. A recent study published in Pediatric Obesity that examined the sodium and sugar content of packaged baby and toddler foods sold in America found that 58 percent of the products assessed either have a high level of sodium or at least 20 percent of calories from sugar. Researchers also found that 15 percent of toddler foods (especially entrees) exceeded the 'moderate level' recommended for sodium.
Other foods that kids typically eat that tend to be high in sodium—not to mention high in calories and less nutritious overall—include processed/packaged or restaurant foods including fried, breaded foods (like chicken nuggets and French fries), cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, sliced deli meats, condiments like catsup and processed meats like hot dogs. Still, otherwise nutritious foods like canned beans, vegetable-based soups, and whole grain breads can also pack in sodium which is why it helps to read labels to compare products. To put sodium in context, any item that contains 230 milligrams per serving is about 10 percent of the sodium recommended daily for kids.
Only time will tell if the FDA's future voluntary sodium guidelines—if followed by the food industry—will help children lower their sodium intake and reap subsequent health benefits. Until then, it's prudent to be aware of sodium in kids' diets and to take steps to help them meet—and not exceed—current science-based sodium guidelines.
What's your take on kids and sodium? Do you think they should limit it in their diets?
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Image of spilled salt and salt shaker via shutterstock.